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Will Wilshire bus-only lanes get more Angelenos riding Metro?

metrobusad Morning greens:

The Metro 720 and I have been fast friends since the line launched back in 2000. Compared to the local buses I’d been used to, the Rapid was a speed monster. Back then, a new Metro 720 bus showed up every 10 minutes or so to pick me up from my apartment in Miracle Mile, holding yellow lights and speeding down Wilshire Blvd., making only a few stops at major intersections before dropping me off a few blocks from my cubicle on Bunker Hill. Since my job got me a free Metro pass for not driving to work, taking the 720 was a no brainer.

Fast forward 11 years, and traffic in L.A.’s gotten a lot worse. I now work from home, but I take the 720 from time to time — which still flies down Wilshire — if it’s close to midnight. I exaggerate a little — but frequent riders know that the Rapid bus is anything but rapid during rush hour, when it has to hobbles along with the rest of the slow-moving cars on Wilshire, slowly inching forward in the daily traffic jams.

That’s why I got excited about the plans to create bus-only lanes on Wilshire. Officially called the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit Project, this project seeks to move bus riders faster during rush hour by turning curb lanes into bus-only lanes between Valencia Street (near the 110) and Centinela (at the City of Santa Monica border). Create those 8.7 miles of bus-only lanes, and bus riders could see their commute time shrink by an impressive 10 to 15 minutes!

Not everyone’s entirely happy about this bus lane idea, however. In fact, the project’s already shrunk a bit from when it was conceived. Back in December, Metro Board of Director Zev Yaroslavsky successfully convinced the other board members to exempt the area between Selby and Comstock avenues in Westwood (a.k.a. the Condo Canyon section), cutting the project down to 7.7 miles, resulting in about 11 minutes in time savings for transit riders. At that point, Metro had to do another environmental impact report for the new, shorter route — and was also asked to study an even shorter route that cut out all of the westside from the project.

That new study came out on Earth Day. The findings: The 7.7 route (minus the Condo Canyon stretch) would shave transit riders’ travel times by about 11 minutes, while the shorter 5.4 mile route (minus all of the westside) would decrease travel time only by six to nine minutes.

Metro’s “preferred alternative” is the 7.7-mile route — and transit advocates have been speaking up to push for that recommendation to become reality. Although Metro board members appeared to support that route in previous meetings, Damien Newton atStreetsblog opines that drivers in Brentwood and Westwood who prefer the shorter option could still hold say over the final route. “Just because transit advocates and transportation studies done by experts argue one point doesn’t mean that Metro and the City Council will except either the 8.7 mile or 7.7 mile project over the 5.4 mile one backed by Rosendahl,” Damien writes.

The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to take up the project at its meeting on Thu., May 26 at 9 am at Metro headquarters, 1 Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles. You can put in your two cents there — or during the current 30-day public review period, contact the Metro Board Members to express your opinion. Juan Matute at The LA Subway Blog‘s even put together a quick and easy page that lets people contact the Metro Board and L.A. city councilmembers — who’ll also vote on this project before it moves forward.

Wondering how drivers will be affected by the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit Project? If the 7.7-mile route’s adopted, they’d see drive times go up by about 6 minutes. Keep in mind, though, that more people travel by bus than by car on Wilshire during rush hour. According to Metro, “about 29,000 Metro riders use buses within the project area during rush hour compared to 20,000 autos carrying about 24,000 people. With the bus lanes, the number of bus riders is expected to increase to 33,000 to 35,000 in the project area.”

What are your thoughts on the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit Project? Do you already ride the bus and hope for faster commute times? Would you think about getting on the bus if it moved faster than car traffic — especially with gas prices going up and Metro day pass prices going down? Or do you feel driving down Wilshire will still be the best way to go?

Photo: A Los Angeles Metro bus with Metro advertisement. (biofriendly/Flickr)